The change in seasons is a hard time for a lot of us — especially once we lose an hour of daylight with the switch back to standard time. Nothing kills my happy mood like the sun setting at 4:15 PM.
While my instincts tend toward hiding inside eating sugary carbs while online shopping, none of these things really make me feel better. Instead, I’ve learned there are a few tried-and-true mood-boosters that actually help me beat the winter blues, and most of them cost next to nothing. Here are 10 I rely on as we head into that dark stretch between the end of daylight savings and the winter solstice.
1. Go outside
Even if it’s miserably cold out, going outside always makes me feel better. I’ve found that if I dress for the weather I have instead of the weather I want, being outside usually isn’t that uncomfortable. Walking around in the brisk cold, drinking in the crisp fresh air and remembering that there is a whole world outside of my little reality instantly helps me feel better. Even if it’s nighttime (or only 5 PM but pitch black), walking around outside in the wintertime also gives me a different, new perspective on my beloved neighborhood.
2. Just add water
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m basically a tropical plant. I need sunshine (see also: go outside) and plenty of water. If I’m having an attack of the sads, sometimes a good soaking shower or a relaxing bubble bath is in order. I prop my iPad up on a stool in the bathroom and put on some Gilmore Girls. Is there anything more indulgent than watching TV in the bathtub? Even better, the risk of turning into a prune means I only watch one episode, not seven in a row.
3. Move around
A mood booster that rarely sounds appealing but always makes me feel better is working out. Whether that’s hauling it to the gym for a serious sweat session or just doing some YouTube-guided gentle yoga in my living room, moving around is never a bad idea. In addition to being good for you, experiencing the physical sensation of moving your body can help you get out of your head if you’re just spinning over the same four thoughts over and over again.
4. Make a List
When I’m hit with the winter blues, it’s easy to make an instant mental list of all the things that are getting me down. It’s cold out. The days are so short. Wool is itchy. You get the idea.
Instead of falling into this well-worn track, though, I make a list of all the things I’m happy about right now. I can wear all my favorite soft flannel shirts! I can drink buckets of warm winter drinks without sweating! Snow is so pretty, and it didn’t snow where I grew up so it’s still novel and fun to me! Once I start listing all the things I like about winter, you’d think that it’s my favorite season — or at least one I look forward to instead of dread each year
5. Sort and declutter
If there’s anything I like more than watching a decluttering show like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, it’s doing my own little version in my tiny apartment. Every time I think I’ve finally gotten rid of the last item that doesn’t spark joy, something else catches my eye and I start the decluttering process all over again. I enjoy sifting through my belongings and setting aside the things I don’t need any longer. Even if there’s truly nothing in your house that you want to get rid of, just sorting through items and finding a better way to store and display them often helps. Imposing outer order can definitely help create some inner calm (thanks Gretchen Rubin).
6. Get crafty
While I will never be someone who has a craft room or my own Etsy shop, there’s something fun about pulling out a little bit of cardstock and some colored pencils and getting creative. Every once in a while, I’ll grab a stamp set or a fun notepad from the dollar bin at Target and add it to my crafting stash. Then, when I’m feeling down or the weather is crummy on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, I can set up a little craft station to make cute Friendsgiving place settings or a card to drop in the mail for a friend’s birthday. Even if what I make turns out wonky and goes straight into the recycling bin, getting my creative juices flowing is an instant mood-booster.
7. Do something nice for someone else
It’s easy to get into a funk and concentrate on how that’s making you feel (i.e. not good), so instead, shift your focus so that you’re thinking about someone else. Doing something nice for someone, whether that’s signing up for a volunteer shift at your local food bank, reaching out to a friend with a card or kind word, or just calling your grandma for a chat because you know she doesn’t get out much, will make you feel better than wallowing. There are so many ways to do something nice for someone else and only one way it will make you feel: better.
Cuddling up with a good book, thumbing through a guilty pleasure magazine, or perusing a new cookbook for recipe inspiration are easy mood boosters that don’t have to cost a thing. Swing by your local library branch or fire up your e-reader and see what’s available and strikes your fancy, or find a free little library in your neighborhood where you can take a book and leave one you’re done with. Getting out of your head and into a story is a great way to think about something other than the winter blues.
9. Turn to tunes
My roommate from college had the best way to deal with a bad day, and it’s a trick that I still use today. She’d turn on some really upbeat, poppy music and we’d have an impromptu dance party in our dorm room — the goofier the song and accompanying dance moves, the better. We even had a playlist saved in iTunes called “dance party.”
Bopping around the room to something really happy for even just a few songs will make you feel lighter and will get your blood flowing, both of which are bound to improve your mood. Keep a playlist on your phone of the songs that never fail to make you smile and want to sing along, and next time you’ve had a bad day or can’t remember what the sun looks like, fire it up and have a little dance party in your bedroom.
10. Phone a friend
Whether it’s your best friend, your life partner, or your mom, sometimes simply saying out loud to someone else that you’re having a hard time can help lighten the load. Usually, a burden shared is a burden halved, and keeping your feelings inside is not going to make you feel better.
Get the help you need
Fighting a low mood doesn’t have to start and end with retail therapy. There are so many ways to perk yourself up without shelling out a bunch of money.
If you’re really sinking and nothing seems to help, talk to a professional. There are many tools available to help people cope with all levels of severity of seasonal depression, and suffering along in silence just trying to make it to spring is not the only option out there.
A grant writer by day and personal finance fanatic by night, Marisa is an avid traveler who now lives in Boston. When she’s not reading or writing for work or play, she enjoys running, thrifting, and searching for the most authentic Mexican food in the city.
Image via Unsplash